Posts Tagged ‘decisions’


The worst thing that ever happened to me was the author of all the best things in my life.
I was coming up on ten years at the ad agency. I had come back to Columbia, South Carolina from New York when I discovered that the pea under the mattress there was more or less permanent. I’d worked at that agency since my return. Despite doing really great work for the shop, my salary constituted theft, I had been passed over for any sort of substantive promotion and I was being actively discriminated against. The jerk I was supposed to “report to” was a failed, hack playwright who asked me to help steal the agency’s best client and start a new firm with he and this out of town sales rep.
She was an unfaithful cokehead and he only ever spoke to me when he wanted something. It didn’t seem a good fit. Plus, how they were treating their employer was also not a good sign.
The only reason they wanted me at all was because this particular client loved me. The client would fly me in for meetings on projects I wasn’t even working on. I loved them too, so I was glad to go. But steal their business and move to Houston? I don’t know, maybe I should have.
When I turned the jerk down, my troubles began. Jerk began telling people that I had made a pass at him. I hadn’t. Even so, I’m not sure why that would have been such a big deal in itself, but it was the early nineties a time when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell still seemed like a good idea. Anyway, it was his proof that I was “unstable.” I lost all my accounts. My requests to report to anyone else were met with a stony denial and the reminder that I was unstable. Even the information that the jerk was trying to steal our biggest client and go into competition was met with the same “unstable” rebuke.
Bigotry is a powerful weapon. It excuses fact and reason from all argument.
Mysteriously, we lost our biggest client – the ones who loved me and were suddenly told I had been taken off their account for no apparent reason.
As often happens in agency life, layoffs accompany the loss of a big account.
Naturally, since I had been with the firm for nearly ten years, they kept my assistant and gave me the choice of being fired or working as an entry level copywriter at a remote backwater office in – gasp – Orlando. Now if you love Florida and are crazy for Orlando, seek professional help. I just don’t. Flat, hot, service economy, bleah. Not for me. Did I mention hot? And the humidity?
At the time, despite the fact that I had a regular TV gig at the local NBC affiliate and a popular column in The Free Times, a local entertainment tabloid, my salary mostly came from the agency.
It was one of those opportunities in life where maybe I missed my moment. I don’t know. I was so stunned that I was being shown the door. I simply could not believe the betrayal. I don’t actually know what happened. I suppose that the jerk was given a certain amount of budget to cut and I was his choice. I’ll never know for sure.
In the end I was offered, on a Thursday afternoon, to keep my salary if I could report for work in Orlando the following Monday.
I had 72 hours to completely shut down my life and be in a hotel in a city I hated or I was fired.
Perhaps it was a mistake, but I picked my salary. I’ve always wondered what would have happened if I’d told them to go to hell. Instead, I put everything I had in storage, rented my apartment and gave notice at my other two jobs.
I was the primary creative source for the agency at the time so they kept bringing me back for meetings on big new clients and pitches. But I had to live in Orlando. It was the worst period of my life. I cried uncontrollably for no reason at unpredictable times. I could not sleep. I either got so drunk that I passed out or I was just up all night. My friends had a birthday party for me that year in the infield at the Aiken Trials. All the pictures are of me in a white dinner jacket and dark glasses, crying.
I don’t know what a nervous breakdown is, but I might have had one. Whatever, it was the worst.
I lasted three months.
Then one day, I woke up and thought, “I quit.” Nothing is worth this. I pick bankruptcy over this. I resigned. My stuff was already in storage. I packed the convertible and drove to Los Angeles, a city where I knew no one, had no prospects, no place to stay, no job and had never been before. It just seemed like the right thing to do, even though it was the wrong thing in so many ways.
And that, as Mr. Frost would say, has made all the difference.
My life is transformed. I never wanted to be in advertising. That was just what happened to me. That job was miserable and I was miserable doing it. I loved the TV thing and miss it. This blog thing has reminded me of how much I enjoyed the column. But the rest? Yuck. Maybe I’d have loved advertising if I hadn’t worked at such an awful place.
I was published within two years of arriving. I had my first movie deal in two and a half. I found myself in a place where there was nothing wrong with being me. My life has blossomed in ways that were not even possible there. All of the best things that have ever happened to me happened as a direct result of that terrible, awful day.
I am reminded of that day a lot lately.
Times are hard right now. For me and for a lot of people. I’m not sure what’s next. Some days it’s easy to be overtaken by my fear. But, my tears have been few and I’m sleeping soundly. I think it’s because my worst day taught me that I can’t always recognize my blessings when they come.

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